Rating 5 stars
My friend Dipika has a story in this anthology, which gathers together poems and stories of maps and mapping from UK writers of global majority communities.
These are tales of place, covering diaspora, exile, identity, childhood and family. The writers are all based in the UK and are from a wide range of communities. After finishing The Good Immigrant, I wanted to sink my teeth into more writing from communities that are underrepresented in the literary world, and this offering from Arachne Press gave me the opportunity to do just that.
In their introduction, the editors Sandra A Agard and Laila Sumpton say, “It is important that diverse stories and histories are told by writers of [global majority] heritage, so that future generations can see themselves in the books they read, and understand who they are.” To that I would add that increased visibility of writers from global majority communities is important in showing everybody that we are all, underneath the colour our skin happens to be, humans who live, love, suffer and celebrate, that we are equal and we all have a voice.
I’ve chosen my highlights from the collection for this review, but I enjoyed everything within its pages.
The poem ‘Make Me Into a River’ by ZR Ghani gave me pause, with its abstract imagery of a life unrooted. The poet exhorts us to “Give yourself fear, give yourself doubt to channel your way into my shoes” before telling us that she is resigned to her loss “with the same surrender that hot glass drinks air”, conjuring the undirected rivulets of condensation running down its surface.
Another poem, ‘Geography Lesson’ by Marina Sánchez, recalls her time as a teaching assistant during a lesson when “The tall, white, blue-eyed PE teacher” informed his class that Virginia was unpopulated when America’s colonisers arrived. When she points out his error after the class, he doesn’t speak to her again for months, erasing her and her heritage a second time.
Crystal Koo‘s story ‘Invasion’ mixes folklore with the impact of capitalism on communities and the devastating effects of the climate crisis. It contrasts those who leave for other countries with those who remain in the knowledge that disruption will happen on a regular cycle. There is something futuristic and dystopian about the way Koo depicts the change wrought by earthquake, despite the story being grounded in the near past and the present.
‘Anvils and Canals’ by Farhana Khalique observes how friendship changes over time and distance. The thing that grabbed me about it, though, was the twist of anxiety in the narrator, Mariam, who is settled in her career and the place she calls home, but is slightly unmoored by the transience of her friend Laila’s existence. Some people like consistency and the security of the known, while others seemingly thrive on change and rootlessness.
Poet Rhiya Pau meditates on the lives of the elders from her community, the economic migrants of the 1960s and 70s, the people who are now widowed and living in care homes. The poem’s title, ‘Departure Lounge’, has a dual meaning, recalling the airport departures that preceded arrival in the UK as well as the final departures of care home residents who lost their lives during the Coronavirus pandemic. Only a few days prior to my reading this collection, the government had been judged guilty of breaking the law in insisting on the discharge of patients from hospital to care homes without testing for the virus or a period of isolation during the pandemic, making this poem even more poignant.
My friend’s story, ‘A Walk in the Countryside’, takes us from pandemic restricted Manchester to the leafy lanes and fields of Cheshire, interspersed with memories of a family trip to India that changes everything. Neetu is the British-born daughter of immigrants, and her outlook on life is very different to that of her parents. The story explores the clash of cultures, both Neetu’s with her parents’ and that of the majority white culture of the UK with its perception of Neetu’s immigrant heritage. More than that, though, it examines the transformation of Neetu from harried and hurried city dweller, panicking about being lost without adequate technological backup, into someone who strolls and appreciates the countryside around her.
I loved the cleverness of the story by Anita Goveas. ‘Baseline Measurements’ tells of the narrator’s journey to find her real father through a series of hotel reviews. It’s funny as well as moving. Across her reviews, Nalini moves from anonymous to forename to a surname that changes, and each reviewed destination marks a point on the map of her late father’s life in another country. There’s a sense that she has never felt suitable or appropriate, that she is striving for meaning and apologetic about it. A sheen of grief lies over her journey. She tells her father’s story, and by default her own, in these reviews, in the hope that someone will read them and validate her existence.
Of a group of poems about the refugee experience, from crossing physically hostile land borders and equally hostile seas to arrival in a country that doesn’t want you, Malka Al-Haddad‘s poem ‘Yarl’s Wood’ moved me the most, with its focus on the psychological damage this detention centre does to those who are processed there, abandoned there, treated as less than human there.
If my friend hadn’t had her submission accepted for this anthology, I doubt I would have come across it. So I have two things to thank her for: for being a good writer and for opening my eyes to a wider landscape of writing.
Where We Find Ourselves is available directly from the publisher. I hope it finds a space on other people’s shelves.